A/N: Don't kill me – this is the last past-focused chapter planned for the story. Starting next chapter, it's all nice, sequential storyline. Thank you to: x-smith, Koizumi Romi, DarkRavie, QuietInsomniac, Sarcastic Tofu, Tara La'Quinn, Taryn Streambattle, The Laughing Phoenix and Maya.
I still don't own, and this is still rated for language, death and violence.
September, 5 years ago
The little boy trudged through the field, struggling with the bucket nearly half as tall as he was. Shikamaru scowled as he hefted the bucket yet another step. "Troublesome" he muttered, huffing his breath as he swung the bucket up and forward for a step. The six year old grumbled under his breath, slanting a glance up at the sky as it began to darken. If he called, he knew that none of his Clansmen would come – he'd been told he'd feed the Eastern Field herd while his parents were away that night. "Good training my foot" he griped.
By the time the deer were fed, true night had fallen. The little boy dragged himself onto the bank of one of the many deep streams running through his Clan's land, plopping down and rolling onto his back. The stars weren't as relaxing as the clouds, but they'd do.
Shika was never entirely sure how long he lay watching the sky – it wasn't unusual for the child to fall asleep. But he was brought back to himself abruptly when his peripheral vision – yet another thing his parents, particularly his mother, insisted on drilling into him – caught something out of place. A red tint to the water swirling softly around the reeds farther down the stream.
Fully awake now, Shikamaru felt his young heart jump in concern – the reeds were just about tall enough to hide a young fawn. Scrambling to his feet, the boy belied his lazy nature as he made his way quickly to the patch of muck and flora. His eyes bugged out, jaw dropping in shock as he saw the source of the redness even now vanishing into the current. 'That's no deer!'
Letting out a few words his mother always smacked his father for forgetting to curb in front of him, Shikamaru disregarded the state of his clothes and jumped down into the mud and water, fighting through the thick weeds to reach the figure's side. Letting loose with another few 'adult' words, the boy's hands fluttered uncharacteristically for an instant before he forced his mind back into working order.
"Medic! No, assess, then field aid, then medic!" The boy dropped to his knees beside the blood stained figure, running quick hands and quicker eyes over the limp form of the brunette kunoichi. Finding nothing he could identify as immediately life threatening – though his knowledge of anatomy was more focused on deer than people – the little boy hooked his hands up under the girl's shoulders and struggled to pull her up onto the bank. 'Water'll make the wounds bleed faster' he realized.
Panting again from the weight, he cast another quick glance over the shinobi – 'Genin, from her age,' – and then forced himself to straighten. "Right" he reminded himself out loud, "home, adult, medic!"
Turning away, Shikamaru had only taken a step before a weak grip wrapped itself around his ankle and he froze in shock. "No" was the soft, painful whisper. Turning wide brown eyes back to his find, he realized that the girl was awake. "No" she repeated, "no medics, no adults!"
Blinking in confusion, he flicked his eyes back to her hitai-ate – yes, that was still Konoha's symbol – before returning his gaze to the pale face dominated by dark eyes over red facial marks. "B-but… why!" Shikamaru, for the first time in his life, stuttered, his genius mind completely unable to process the absurd request. Every shinobi in his Clan was out searching for something – probably this girl! – and she didn't want them to find her? What the hell?
His attention was drawn back as the girl groaned, panting herself as she levered herself up onto her elbows, hand falling weakly back to the ground. "Can't… trust them… Please, just… please no…" With a soft sound, the girl fell back, and Shika had to jump to catch her before her head struck the earth.
'Well… now what?' he wondered wildly. Utterly confused, but somewhat concerned at the stark fear that had tainted the elder child's voice, Shikamaru chewed on his lip for a moment, and then hunkered down beside the unconscious kunoichi. His fingers fiddled uselessly for an instant, so he linked the tips of them together in a circle while he thought. After a few deep breaths and a short time filled with furious thinking, Shikamaru stood once again. His expression unreadable in the dark, the little boy turned away and vanished into the night.
In the early morning light, the two shinobi slipped silently into the house – but their posture all but screamed sadness and defeat. One young woman, a particularly early riser, turned away from the stove, eyed the pair and silently poured another two cups of tea. "No luck?" she questioned softly, conscious of both the others asleep in the house and the pair's physical and emotional weariness.
The kunoichi shook her head silently, but Shikaku spoke, his voice low. "We found the boy, he'd had his throat cut – probably never even got a good look at his killer. We never did find the girl – but we found her dogs, and they're covered in her blood. In a way, it's harder to kill a nin-ken than most new Genin, so from the efficiency of the first deaths, the chances that the girl is still alive… They've sent a tracker team ranging out – there are rumors of some particularly violent nuke-nin moving away from Konoha pretty fast – they may well be our killers."
Yoshino finally found her voice, though it was just as soft as her husbands. "Tsume-san… isn't taking it well. She has another child – a son, about our Shika's age – and he was still up when we walked her home. She just scooped the boy up and held him, and… she cried. He was so confused, he kept asking 'what's wrong with momma' and 'where's sister'. No one answered him, but… we did keep him from seeing the puppies' bodies, for whatever that's worth."
At that, Shikaku looked up from the table. "Speaking of boys, where's Shika?"
The civilian woman's lips twitched and she hid her smile behind her teacup as she answered. "He's staying out at the Eastern Field. He said, and I quote: 'It's warm enough, and this way I won't have to get up early and haul feed.' He packed up his sleeping bag, a pillow and a thermos of that beef broth you left out."
All three adults snickered quietly at the idea, so utterly typical of their brilliant, albeit lazy, little Heir. Deciding that their son would be well enough – there were certainly enough ANBU inside the gates, and Shika knew how to flare his chakra – the elder two finally got to their bed.
The first sensation to return was smell. There was a sweet, almost earthy scent in the air around her – though it was marred by the dull coppery scent of old blood.
The second was touch – or more specifically, pain. A soft whimper escaped the girl as she tried to move, which brought the second two things to attention. One, she was lying on something only slightly soft, and two… she was, much to her own surprise, alive to feel that pain.
Hazy dark eyes opened slowly, and the young kunoichi looked around at her new location. She spotted what looked like a sleeping bag, awkwardly shoved up under her back before the other half was draped over her. Snug, if not exactly neat, bandages wrapped around her visible wounds and – after a fight to lift one arm – she could smell the tang of some sort of medicinal paste underneath them.
Rough wooden walls and ceiling, smooth wooden shelves with various jars and wraps and who knew what else… and a little boy, sitting on the floor, leaning back against some kind of huge storage bins and sound asleep. As if he could feel her gaze on him, the boy stirred, dark eyes opening slowly.
She watched the little face scrunch up in sleepy confusion, and then light up in surprise and recollection when his eyes passed over her. Pushing himself laboriously to his feet, the child came over and crouched down by her side, studying her with serious, surprisingly intelligent eyes. "Nara Shikamaru" he offered. "You're in one of the supply sheds on my family's land – and it was seriously troublesome to load you on that stupid wheelbarrow and get you here. Now… who are you and why didn't you want me to get an adult?"
Taking a bracing breath, the kunoichi levered herself into a sitting position, wincing at the pain but mildly surprised the boy moved to help her do so. "Inuzuka Hana, and… they'll kill me. At least, some of them will. You see…"
February, 4 years ago
He nearly raced his way to school, torn between excitement and guilt. He was happy, on one hand – he'd gotten his puppy this morning! Kiba couldn't wait to show Akamaru off to his friends! But at the same time… he was happy to get out of the house, even though he felt bad for feeling that way. It was just… everything still reminded him of Hana – and he'd caught the sheen, the scent of tears in his mom's eyes when she presented him with his very own nin-ken, even if she hadn't let them fall.
He'd noticed, and couldn't help but remember the funeral he'd attended only months ago – three puppies, and the memory of a surprisingly quiet girl whose body they'd never found. His mom was trying really hard, and she'd pulled herself together for his sake after that first night, but still…
Maybe it was only because he was thinking about her, or maybe it was just a startling similarity, but when the second year's youngest student passed him on the way in, Kiba jerked in surprise. Iruka-Sensei caught him before he could chase the boy, but he cornered him on the playground three days later, unable to brush off that tantalizing encounter.
Snatching the other by his shirt, Kiba ducked around a corner of the Academy building and shoved the slender boy unceremoniously against the wall. Ignoring the boy's slightly outraged cry – as well as the sharp tang of concern, of fear that rose from the upperclassman – Kiba leaned in close, sniffing at the other's arms and torso intently. Eyes widening, the young Inuzuka jerked back, staring in shock and confusion before blurting out his thoughts. "You do! You smell like her! Why do you smell like her?"
He didn't notice, but the other boy tensed at his words, the reek of fear growing stronger as the boy muttered. "Her who?"
"Hana! You smell of my sister, Hana!"
Kiba, for what would be one of the few times ever, had the dubious pleasure of seeing Shikamaru blanch – right before he lunged forward, clasping a hand over Kiba's mouth. "Not here, not now!" he hissed, eyes wide and darting with sudden energy.
Kiba wrenched the hand away, looking at the other boy in suspicion – but slightly infected by the strength of his fear. "Okay… when?"
The Nara heir sighed, shoulders slumping in defeat as he shrugged. "After school, at the swing set – we'll walk from there."